James Hinchcliffe (or "Hinch") has become one of INDYCAR's most entertaining and popular prospects. This Canadian-born driver won three times in the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights Series, narrowly missing out on the series championship. He's joined Newman/Haas Racing as the pilot of their #06 Sprott Asset Management, and will make his IndyCar debut this weekend at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
Hinch also dabbles behind the microphone, being involved in several different recordings and projects for IndyCar, such as his conducting interviews for last year's IZOD IndyCar Series awards banquet. Whether he's on the course or in the broadcast booth, you can expect to see and hear a lot of Hinch this season, starting with our Q&A below:
James, it’s a pleasure to visit with you here (at least virtually) at INDYCAR Nation. How did your sponsorship come together? Can you tell us a bit on how things finally fell into place?
JH: Well Sprott Inc. is a very prominent Canadian company and a leader it its industry, so naturally we saw a lot of potential there. We approached Mr. Sprott and I think that a company that is very performance oriented like Sprott Inc. saw the parallels between itself and a fast paced, high performance product like IndyCar. On top of that the Canadian connection was quite strong and I think the relationship between a young Canadian athlete, a top Canadian company and the IZOD IndyCar series was too good to pass up!
You’ve had an IZOD IndyCar Series test at Barber Motorsports Park that definitely seemed to bring you some positive attention. How did you felt it went?
JH: The test really went better than expected. It was great to get out there with the whole series and to finally drive the IndyCar at a track that isn't Sebring! Nothing against Sebring but Barber is a great track that really let's you push the car's limits. I was definitely a little surprised at how competitive we ran. I think a lot of people were. But ultimately Newman/Haas Racing is such a professional team and we work so well together that it made this kind of performance is possible.
You'll be making your debut at Barber. Do you think you still have a shot at Rookie of the Year despite fewer races than some of the other candidates?
JH: For sure missing round one puts us behind the 8-ball, but it's a very long season and all it takes is one bad race by them and a good weekend from me and we are back into the fight a bit. Having said that, the rookie crop this year is outstanding, one of the strongest in years. So, even if I had been in St Pete it would be a big task to take that prize. All I can do is give it my best week after week and see how it shakes out.
What’s it like working with a veteran like Oriol Servia?
JH: Honestly it has been terrific. The guy is the ultimate professional, incredibly talented, has incredible feedback, which likely stems from the fact that he is one of I think only two IndyCar drivers with a degree, and on top of all that he is a really nice guy. You couldn't find a driver who will be more open and helpful if you ask the questions. For a rookie, you couldn't hand pick a better driver as a teammate. It's like I won the teammate lottery!
We’ve talked to other drivers about the need to be both a businessman and a driver nowadays. Is that something you recognized early on, or something that’s come with time?
JH: Around the time I got into Atlantic it became very apparent. At that level you are close enough to start seeing the business side of things. But at the end of the day it is the nature of our sport and sitting around complaining about it isn't going to change that, so you just have to buckle down and use the same competitive drive you use to beat guys on track to out-perform them off track.
You have a reputation as a funny, entertaining guy, and have done some microphone work for INDYCAR here and there. Is that something you see yourself continued to be interested in, possibly as a post-race career?
JH: I don't know about funny! Funny looking maybe. I've been told I really have a face for radio! But I really enjoy that side of the sport. I got some great opportunities that someone with no training had no business getting, but I took them very seriously and had a blast doing it, so for sure when the driving stops, the broadcasting side is what I want to do.
Moving up through the ranks of open wheel racing, who’s been your toughest competitor on the track?
JH: Over a single lap, raw speed, it's Rafa Matos for sure. That's on road courses. On ovals, once I got to Lights, Wade Cunningham. He'll race you to within an inch of your life and not give you an inch more! Super tough, but always very fair.
Take us through what goes through your mind in a crash. Do things slow down? Do you have time to really process what’s going on?
JH: It's funny because it happens in slow motion, but then afterwards you struggle to remember details. It's a blur. Basically your instincts take over and you try to do everything to save the car. You never worry about yourself, it's always how to minimize damage to the car. If you ever needed it, there is proof that racing drivers have their priorities all out of whack.
What do you do for fun outside of racing? What hobbies or interests do you have?
JH: Life in racing is so busy that I love getting away. By a lake or by the beach, no people around. That's nice. I'm trying to teach myself guitar at the moment. If I'm honest I've been trying to teach myself for almost three years now! Probably about time to take a lesson! The other thing I really enjoy is SCUBA diving.
OK, time for the Lightning Round.
JH: Snatch. Guy Ritchie is a genius
Favorite TV Show?
JH: Top Gear. The real one, not the U.S. knock-off.
JH: Mitch Hedberg.
JH: Greg Moore.
Favorite Race Course?
JH: Road America.
JH: Tie between a cottage in northern Ontario and TCI in the Caribbean.
JH: Audi R8
Lastly, any words for your fans out there?
JH: You're the best citizens a mayor could ask for! Vote Hinch!
Want more Hinch? Follow his Twitter account (twitter.com/Hinchtown) and check his website (www.hinchtown.com). You can also find him occasionally doing push-up contests in the IZOD IndyCar Fan Village. We don't know why he does this. He just does.
Zachary Houghton runs the INDYCAR blog & fan site INDYCAR Advocate (www.indycaradvocate.com). He can be reached on Twitter (@indycaradvocate) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org